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As I noted in an earlier blog selling off England's public forests could cost the nation more than it would save and would be environmental madness. New government figures issued this week show clearly that the sale of the forests would cost £507.9m but yield benefits of only £495.9m.
This was not in either the Conservative or the Liberal Democrats manifestos during the recent election. There is no mandate for this and it’s clearly an attempt to privatize yet another public asset and hand it over to selective groups who will restrict access by the public and use the land for their own profits. Caroline Lucas the Green MP in Westminster took a prominent role in the House of Commons debate during a recent adjournment debate and led opposition calls for the bill to be withdrawn. She has put down an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons asking for a full debate on the issue. I wrote a letter here to press before Christmas that still covers the key issues.A key reason the government is pushing the sale of forests is seen by many as being the tax relief - 100% on Inheritance and free of Capital Gains Tax:
Stroud Greens tell MP "forests not for sale!"
Stroud District Green Party has reacted with dismay to the news that local MP Neil Carmichael has voted against a rethink of government plans to privatise Forestry Commission land, which could see sites such as Westonbirt Arboretum sold off to private investors.
Responding to massive public anger at the initial plans to sell off Forestry Commission land - 84% of people polled by YouGov last month said they opposed the plans - the government reduced the scale of the sell-off by ring-fencing what it called “heritage forests”, such as the Forest of Dean, but many campaigners say the government has been giving mixed messages on whether these sites will be saved or not.
Westonbirt Arboretum near Stroud is not classified as heritage and is therefore still being considered for sale.
Greens feel this could lead to development of forestry land and a loss of biodiversity.
Stroud District Councillor for Randwick, Whiteshill and Ruscombe ward Philip Booth said: "I am appalled that Neil Carmichael has just voted for the sale of our country's forests. This is an irresponsible act of environmental vandalism. No final decision has been made but his support for this move makes no sense. The price of maintaining our forests is about 30p annually for each of us. This represents huge value for money yet the planned sell off has no guarantee that the forest will be accessible to the public and no guarantee that it will be managed properly."
Philip Booth added: "More worryingly is the sham consultation and that there seems to be no clear reason why they want to sell. In terms of the main heritage forests like the Forest of Dean there have been very mixed messages that it could become a trust but still get funding. Some have suggested the sell-off will resolve a 'conflict of interest' within the Forestry Commission, but there is a clear conflict of interest. However there is a conflict between what the government wants and what the majority of England wants i.e. publicly owned forest land remaining publicly owned."
In a letter to constituents about the forestry sell-off, Carmichael stressed that there would be no sale of "heritage forests" such as the Forest of Dean to the private sector and he added that community groups or civil society organizations would be given "first refusal" on any Forestry Commission land.
He also said the government would prevent the sale of any site which has more than 10% planted ancient woodland.
"...I can reassure you that I will be listening very carefully to constituents' responses and views on the consultation," Carmichael said in the letter.
Carmichael, who has received 400 letters and e-mails on the subject, is holding a public meeting on Friday, 4th March at the Old Town Hall in Stroud from 6.30 to 10.30 p.m. to discuss the government's proposals concerning the Forestry Commission.
People who wish to respond to the consultation should write an e-mail email@example.com or a letter to: Forestry Commission, Silvan House, 231 Corstophine Road, Edinburgh, EH12 7AT
Notes for Editors:
1) The text of the "Opposition Day Motion" on Wednesday 7th February, 2011 was:
This House: believes that the Government's intention in the Public Bodies Bill to sell off up to 100% of England's public forestry estate is fundamentally unsound; notes that over 225,000 people have signed a petition against such a sell-off; recognises the valuable role that the Forestry Commission and England's forests have made to increasing woodland biodiversity and public access, with 40 million visits a year; further recognises that the total subsidy to the Forestry Commission has reduced from 35% of income in 2003-04 to 14% of income in 2010-11; further notes that the value of the ecosystems services provided by England's public forest estate is estimated to be £680 million a year; notes that the value of such services could increase substantially in the future through the transition to a low carbon economy as a carbon market emerges; notes that the public forest estate has been retained in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; and calls on the Government to rethink its decision on the sale of England's public forest estate in order to protect it for future generations.
2) The Forest of Dean is listed as a heritage forest and Westonbirt Arboretum as a multi-purpose forest in the government consultation document, http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/forests/index.htm